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At Choeung Ek, our guide points out
the sugar palm’s serrated bark
good for cutting throats. In these fields
a tree can be a knife. A mouth
that knew only several joyful tastes
of what should have been a lifetime’s sugar
can now be a jawbone
separated from its tiny skull.
In times of heavy rain, bones and teeth
and scraps of clothing surface
in the mud—our guide requests we do
not touch them. It is as if,
he says, the dead will not rest. This
was once an orchard, watermelon grove.
Now the land swells gently where
the mass graves are, like the stipple
of our lazy beds that predate the Famine.
Here, the sun rises like an apple
red and whole. At home, they told us not
to taste it, but we let the sugared juices
trickle down our chins and now—
I reach out to the coloured bracelets
hanging on the Killing Tree. Here
a tree can receive the heads of babies
and hold for decades
the brain-bone-fragments. Our guide
says look, but I do not want to look.
The sun touches gently the
unstirring lake, the stupa’s dusty glass
behind which 5,000 skulls
gaze back at us, incurious.
They lay in darkness for so long, the only
sounds that reached them
birds and monkeys calling
to their young, calls passed down
through generations. One century before
two Irish boys uncovered
a Galway field’s bone-chamber
the missionaries who first came to Angkor
said the jungle temple was so strange
and ancient they did not believe
the natives capable of building it.
Our Poem of the Week submissions are currently closed – a new call for submissions will open shortly. We are accepting submissions for our other regular features: MONOGRAPH (a group of poems by a single author) and New Voices (poets aged 18-30 who have yet to publish a full collection).